The very nature of surveillance requires that you study the subject and the environment, which you will be operating in. Every operative involved in the operation should have a working knowledge of the subject’s habits, routines, family, friends, associates, hang-outs / places they frequent, addresses, vehicles they own, tag numbers, other transportation owned such as boats, planes and the corresponding tail numbers, licenses, make, models of all of it-before initiating the operation.

You should be intimately familiar with the subject’s face so that if they try to alter it by using props or disguises you will still have instant recognition. This information can provide you with potential whereabouts when and if the subject evades surveillance or you need to find them at any given time.

As mentioned earlier, knowing the immediate and surrounding lay of the land is critical to the operation and your safety. Get to know the Area of Operation (AO), and thus streets by physically walking them, driving them and when feasible, by taking mass transit such as trains and buses. Be sure to acquire bus and train schedules and know exact locations of major airports as well as executive type airports.

Car rental places are also another venue, which you must explore. Learn about the companies and how they operate insofar as how they do there rental agreements and what they consist of, what is required upon renting a vehicle, etc.

Learn every street, ally and rooftop and while out doing your geographic reconnaissance, make mental notes of locations and places that you feel could be “choke points”, places in which you and your team could be ambushed or “taken out”.

Always remember, you and your team are playing in the target’s sandbox.  They have intimate knowledge of people, places and things that can and will be used to hide, escape or get to you. Remain vigilant at all times and keep an eye out for bigger buildings, stores, restaurants and the like that may have multiple points of egress that could be used by the target to slip away.

Look for vantage points where you could overtake the subject and any associates if needed, and places or areas that could lend well to concealment in the event you need to hide in plain sight to avoid detection, these places are called cover stops.

Make sure as you do your “recon” that you do not cause unwanted attention to yourself. You must blend into the environment. Utilize the local stores and shops to help make you “invisible”. This means dressing as someone would dress in that environment. Eating the food that is native to that culture or area, carrying credit cards from banks specific to that area and cash in small denominations from local currency is all part of your cloak of invisibility.

Communication is crucial to any surveillance operation. When the subject is on the move, you must be able to communicate updates and whereabouts to other operatives on the team. It is also sound practice to check in regularly so that the team leader or command post knows your present condition. Cell phones are essential; always carry the charger and any other communication device needed with you.

All team members should be briefed on “impersonal communication”. This is your ability to convey a thought or idea non-verbally. Impersonal communication is especially useful when your proximity to the subject precludes you from employing a cell phone or a walkie talkie.

You can use hand signals or items of clothing or accessories to make a statement. For example if you wear your ball cap with the “bill” forward it might tell the others on the team to maintain the surveillance as previously planned whereas if you turn the bill to the rear, it may imply that the operation has been compromised.

Whatever signals you use, they will indicate a change in condition of the subject or operation and since it will be a “visual” form of communication, the operatives must maintain a status of full other words stay frosty!

When planning the operation it will be important to designate the various impersonal communications and what they stand for. Then all members of the team must commit it to memory.


In planning for your surveillance operation consider the type of clothing that you will need. This should be dictated by the local customs as well as the climate and local weather conditions.Always have changes of clothing with you either in a satchel type over the shoulder bag or layer your clothing so that you can shed some of it to alter your appearance.

Additionally, you will want to have props and disguises handy either in your bag or pockets so that you can make alterations to your look at various intervals. This is especially helpful for the lone operative tailing a subject for extended periods of time or when the surveillance involves a team that rotates.


  1. A good part of your ability to blend in to the environment and evade detection from the subject will depend on your appearance. That is the clothing you wear, how you hold yourself, gait, physical stature, eye and hair color, hairstyle and any other physical attributes that may be indigenous to the area.
  2. Your mental state and how you carry yourself psychologically are critical elements to any operation. If you are having a bad day, get over it. The ability to remain calm cool and collective are normal qualities of any operative. If you find yourself in a situation where you lose the subject do not call unwanted attention to yourself by throwing a fit, cursing or displaying any emotion or behavior the subject may be watching thus confirming the surveillance. If you get burned and you are suddenly thrust into an ambush situation, your ability to think critically is paramount to your survival. If you let your emotions get the best of you, you will be unable to make immediate decisions and you will “freeze” thereby powerless to react or take appropriate actions to thwart the attack.
  3. Having a thorough understanding of physical and psychological alterations during “cannibal stress” is not enough. Your actions will depend on the behavioral chains that are set. If you want to attain the highest level of competency, which is when you are “unconsciously competent” you will need to train appropriately, regularly and seriously.
  4. Do not make eye contact with the subject. If they see you staring at them or your eyes meet even in a casual glance they will very likely know of your presence and will change whatever plans they had (which may have been the objective of your surveillance).
  5. When a subject enters a building, store or café you will have to decide if you should continue following them in or wait until they exit. If you are working alone (and depending if this is a loose or close surveillance operation) you may choose to find a suitable location outside the structure to wait them out. It is also possible that the subject is using the establishment to take an alternate point of egress to evade surveillance.
  6. Having a team or multiple operators positioned at strategic spots outside the establishment on different streets with different viewpoints would serve to maintain a visual on the subject and their whereabouts in the event they attempt an evasive tactic.
  7. Still, if you are working as a lone operative, you can consider finding some adjacent store, café or other business that can serve as temporary cover while you wait to “pick up” the subject again outside. If you find yourself waiting in a restaurant or café, order coffee or tea and have cash readily available to pay as you may be leaving quickly.
  8. Working any surveillance operation places a lot of demands on the operatives. You may start to feel weary, weakened and tired by lack of sleep or food. It is important to maintain a steady energy level while engaged. It is strongly recommended that you bring with you some type of simple food (make sure it is relative to the environment and culture) such as peanuts, almonds, energy bars or the like so that you will maintain your ability to concentrate on the operation.
  9. Many times while working alone you will be following the subject unaware of where they are going. In the event they lead you to a meeting with one of their contacts or associates you will want to continue to follow your primary and gather whatever intelligence you can to pass along.
  10. Now if the situation is one in which you are working under the guise of an intelligence agency, a military or law enforcement Op and you happen upon an arms deal or a terrorist cell, you will likely want to alter the focus of the surveillance in order to follow the new contact. It is also possible, depending on the circumstances, that you will have to act on the spot to thwart the deal and transfer of materials (as would be the case with arms, nuclear materials, explosives or other NBC concerns) this will usually mean engaging the subjects with surprise, speed and overwhelming violence-if you are prepared.
  11. If your odds of failure are high, then you should do whatever you can to make mental notes of faces and items, materials present, force, etc. and continue following while calling in for help. It is absolutely vital here you move without detection as your life and the lives of potentially many depend on it.
  12. Alter how you follow the subject if you are a single operative. Try following on the opposite side of the street where you can still maintain a watchful eye but are not trying to maintain a presence behind them.
  13. People that are adept in surveillance techniques will alternate their step by speeding up and slowing down randomly in an attempt to see if anyone is trying to keep pace with them. If you attempt to stay with the subject while they are “testing” you will get “burned”.
  14. If you are merely there for the purposes of gathering intelligence and observation, then you may want to loosen the tail a bit to avoid detection. If you are working with a team, the point man or woman should then either walk across the street or walk into a shop or store or pretend to be window shopping. Operative “C” or #3 can fall in step behind the subject while Operative “B” or #2 is keeping pace on the opposite street.
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